There are few places in the sports world as revered as Lambeau Field. The first stadium built solely to house an NFL team; the old-school and largely unchanged bowl seating setup; the cheese curds. It's hard to fathom that a place named by FoxSports.com as "the undisputed king of NFL stadiums" sits in the middle of a town in northern Wisconsin that boasts a population of just 100,000 people. Yet, football fans young and old flock to the venue in hopes of feeling that air of history and rich football tradition that both the stadium, and the Green Bay Packers, have become known for.
For football players, however, it's a chance to be a part of that history and tradition. It's enough to bring out the competitor in them, along with the inner football fan, in some cases.
"I just think the atmosphere up there. They have a lot of history being the Packers and a playoff team, a Super Bowl team and a lot of great players that will probably go down in the books one day," Buccaneers' wide receiver DeSean Jackson said. "Any time you are able to get an opportunity to go out there, you've definitely got to put your best foot forward and hopefully everyone is ready to go."
Jackson is one of only a few players in the Buccaneers' locker room that has actually played at the venue. The Bucs haven't played in Green Bay since 2011. The only current member of the team who was a part of that roster was defensive tackle Gerald McCoy. However, he was injured at the time and didn't make the trip.
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"I've never played there," McCoy said. "I've never even played against the Packers and I say it all the time, Aaron Rodgers is my favorite player. Every time I have an opportunity to play against him, something happens. Either I'm injured or now he's injured. I was really looking forward to getting to play against him, but I'm a historian and the Packers are just one of those teams. When you say the Packers, it's like, 'Man, this is the Green Bay Packers. It's Lambeau Field.' I'm so excited. I was a fan of the NFL before I became a player in the NFL, so this was one of those ones where I am really excited as a fan to just go see it and be a part of it. It's something I'll always remember."
Buccaneers' head coach Dirk Koetter took his own trip down memory lane when asked this week about going to play at Lambeau Field.
"The first time I went there was for a preseason game and I think every single person in the crowd had a Green Bay Packers jersey on," Koetter said. "I'd never seen anything like it. It was a summer night. It was in August and I'd never seen anything like that where it was that high volume of Packers jerseys.
"Then we went another time when it was in December like this and before the game the field was covered. They had the blowers going. [It was] horrible weather. You couldn't even see. It was snowing. The second those gates opened, there was people in those seats two hours before game time […] fans sitting there like it was nothing with the weather. [It is] a very cool place to play."
Make no mistake though, the Buccaneers aren't getting too caught up in the luster of Lambeau.
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"Our guys, I'm sure they are excited if it's their first time to see it," defensive coordinator Mike Smith said. "But guess what? When they kick it off, it is still 100 yards long and 53-and-a-third yards wide. We're going to have to go out and play a Green Bay team that played very well this past week on [Sunday] night against the Pittsburgh Steelers. It was a heck of a game. They had an opportunity to win that ball game."
Last time the Buccaneers and Packers played was in 2014 at Raymond James Stadium with the visitors coming up victorious. The last time the Buccaneers played at Lambeau in 2011, Tampa Bay lost on a late drive that saw Packers' quarterback Aaron Rodgers connect with wide receiver Jordy Nelson for the score with under three minutes to go in the game. However, in 2009 at home, the Bucs came up with a stellar defensive performance against the Pack that included six sacks and three interceptions. With starting quarterback Aaron Rodgers still sidelined with a broken collarbone, the Bucs may have an opportunity to create a scenario much more like the latter on Sunday.
"Playing at Lambeau – there has been a lot of great memories at that field," quarterback Jameis Winston, who will be making his first start in three weeks after suffering an AC joint injury to his throwing shoulder, said. "Hopefully we can have a great memory [of] our own."